MORRIS, John (by 1500-40), of Syon Abbey, Mdx. and Farnham, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. by 1500. m. Elizabeth.1
Keeper, small park at Farnham 1524-d.; servant of Sir Henry Owen by 1529; j.p. Surr. 1531-2; receiver, Syon abbey's lands in Surr. and Suss. by 1534; commr. tenths of spiritualities, Surr. 1535.2
John Morris's background and parentage remain unknown, although he may have been related to a family living in Somerset, where Syon abbey had property. The first glimpse of Morris comes in 1521, when he obtained the wardship of Thomas White II* and the custody of a manor in Kent during White's minority. Three years later Bishop Fox of Winchester gave Morris the keepership of an episcopal park at Farnham, where he may have already settled: it is possible that his services were retained by Fox, but it was his connexion with the royal foundation at Syon that brought Morris into the limelight during the 1530s. Syon owned property at Steyning and Morris kept the abbey's courts there: his conduct at these courts earned him the respect of the inhabitants, and presumably his return to the Parliament of 1529 was promoted by the abbey and welcomed the electors. It may also have owed something to Sir David Owen†, a local magnate who remembered Morris in his will, and even to Wolsey, Fox's successor as bishop.3
On 6 Jan. 1534, shortly before the sixth session of the Parliament, Morris told the clerk of the Council that the abbess and nuns had decided against recognizing the King's divorce. The clerk and a bishop visited Syon not long after and exonerated him from blame for his part in the abbey's obstinacy, which continued to vex the regime. After Stephen Gardinerhad visited Syon a year later, Morris was questioned by Cromwell. He admitted that he had asked Gardiner to confirm him in his appointment at Farnham, and that he had asked the bishop about the primacy of Rome 'because he had heard it much spoken in the parliament house'. He had tried to provoke Gardiner by suggesting that papal primacy rested on the consent of General Councils, but Gardiner had parried this by accepting the authority of Parliament as discharging his conscience, whereupon Morris had asked the bishop's permission to use this argument at Syon. Cromwell asked how Morris could have agreed with such a view, and he replied:
Mine opinion concerning the General Council is that an Act of Parliament made in the realm for the common wealth of the same ought rather to be observed within the same realm than any General Council. And I think that the Holy Ghost is as verily present at such an Act as it ever was at any General Council.
The Act of Supremacy, in his view was 'as much for the common wealth of this realm as any Act ever was made'. Such asseverations doubtless pleased Cromwell, and there seems no reason to doubt that Morris was chosen again at Steyning for the Parliamentof 1536, in compliance with the King's wish for the return of the previous Members.4
Morris was employed in the compilation of the valor eccesiasticus and in 1537 he dissolved Boxgrove priory in Sussex. Later in the same year he justified Cromwell's confidence in him by sending to the minister for examination a priest who had fled from Syon. His administrative experience was frequently drawn upon the crown, and in 1539 he helped to prepare the inventory of the goods at Syon; the contents of his own chamber he bought for 30s.8d. William Fitzwilliam*, Earl of Southampton, proposed to nominate Morris 'and some other honest man' to serve for Farnham in the Parliament of 1539: Farnham had made a single return during the reign of Henry VI, but otherwise it is not known to have enjoyed parliamentary representation. As the earl spoke of Farnham as a borough controlled by the bishop of Winchester, it is conceivable that in the 1530s its right to return Members was revived at Gardiner's request, but if so the pracitce was equally shortlived. Morris is not known to have sat in the Parliament of 1539 for Farnham or any other borough, and he died on 5 July 1540 before its disolution. He made his will several years earlier, on 19 Dec. 1536, leaving money for the poor and for masses to be said for his own and his wife's soul. He left Syon £10 (a provision which presumably lapsed) and Farnham church £14 6s.8d. towards a steeple. He also provided for his kinsmen and made his wife his resiuary legatee and sole executrix.5
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: R. J.W. Swales
- 1. Date of birth estimated from first reference. PCC 14 Alenger.
- 2. LP. Hen. VIII, v. viii; Eccles. 2/155869; PCC 6 Spert.
- 3. LP Hen. VIII, iii; Eccles. 2/155869; Suss. Arch. Colls. xxxviii. 108; PCC 6 Spert.
- 4. LP Hen. VIII, vii, viii; Elton, Reform and Renewal, 67.
- 5. LP Hen. VIII, viii, xii, xv; Suss. Arch. Colls. xliv. 55; LR2/112 ex inf. R. W. Dunning; PCC 14 Alenger, 30 Spert.